Sony RX1R II Hands-on Review

Sony's new RX1R II marks the very high end of pocketable cameras. It has a 42-megapixel full-frame sensor, a fixed f/2 Zeiss lens, and boatloads of features. It also has a price to match.

Sony has released their new Cyber-Shot RX1R II model. It’s a small, pocketable body with a fixed lens. Broadly speaking, it’s a bit like a hybrid of a point-and-shoot, a mirrorless camera, and a high-end DSLR, taking elements from each of those classes of cameras.

On paper, it has very impressive specs. A full-frame CMOS sensor that produces 42MP images. A fixed 35mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss lens. It’s brimming with features and technologies–too many to list here. And it’s all wrapped up in a package that can fit in a coat pocket.

But here’s the kicker: it’s priced at $3900. That’s a number that’s hard to ignore, and it’s impossible not to judge a compact camera in that price range–or any camera, for that matter–without very high expectations.

I’ve been shooting with it for a month or so. The camera is loaded with specs on paper—far too many for me to review every feature here—but here’s how it performed in real-world shooting. And if you’re looking for high-resolution sample images shot with this camera, I have some here.

Handling

Size and Portability. One of the defining features of this camera is its size. For such a small package it includes some really impressive capabilities.

That said, it’s significantly larger than the average point-and-shoot size mostly because of the size of the lens. The whole thing fit in my coat’s pockets but is too big for something like trouser pockets, for example.

Sony’s measurements are 4.5 inches wide by 2.6 inches high (11.3 x 6.5 cm) and 2.8 inches (7.2 cm) deep from the tip of the lens to the back of the camera.

It weighs 1.12 pounds (507 grams). It feels solid in the hand–heavier than you expect thanks to the alloy body and glass in the lens.

Buttons and Controls. Taking a cue from many of the other retro-styled cameras that have hit the market in recent years, it has old-style dials on top to select the exposure mode. And the shutter button is even a threaded type used for mechanical shutter release cables.

The other buttons and dials elsewhere on the camera are pretty standard. A few are programmable. A rotating dial on the back is the primary means of navigating the menus on the screen.

The main controls on the back are logically laid out and not overdone. Some of them can be programmed with functions of your choice.

It has retro-styled dials on top for the shooting mode, power, and exposure compensation. The shutter release even harks back to the old style with a center thread for a mechanical remote shutter release. In manual mode, shutter speed is changed with the dial on the back next to the play button.

LCD Screen. The back screen is bright and responsive. But, surprisingly, it’s not a touch screen.

It also tilts, which can come in very handy when shooting from below eye level.

The back screen folds up and out.

Viewfinder. It has a built-in viewfinder that pops up from the left side and folds down into the camera’s body when not in use. In general, I prefer using a viewfinder rather than a back screen live view, but I have a strong preference for optical viewfinders. The digital one that this one uses does have some impressive overlay tools and was bright, but ultimately I preferred not using it. The digital view it projects just isn’t to much liking, and I found myself using the back screen for live view.

Shooting Still Images

You can find some sample images here.

It has a 42.4 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor with a variable low-pass filter. The lens is a 35mm f/2 Carl Zeiss lens. It all amounts to superb image quality of the kind you expect from a high-end DSLR.

Sony image sensors are among the best in the business, and the one they’ve put in this camera is among their very best.

It shows. There’s really not much I can fault in terms of image quality. The combination of sensor and lens works very well indeed in a wide range of lighting conditions.

It has a fixed Carl Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f/2.0 lens. It uses a 49mm thread for attaching filters.

I also found the autofocus to be unusually good, even with tracking fast-moving subjects.

Image Sizes & Formats. The default size for still images is the maximum 42 megapixels, which produces images that are 7952 by 5304 pixels. In the RAW format, Sony’s .arw format, they come out at roughly 86 megabytes per size.

At that rate you can fill up memory cards very quickly, so you can also dial down the image size, with a bunch of steps down to a 7.1 megapixel size.

You can shoot RAW or RAW + JPEG, with a choice of quality settings for the JPEGs in the RAW + JPEG option.

For aspect ratio, you can choose the default 3:2 or 4:3, 16:9, or 1:1. Not all aspect ratios are available at all size settings.

Low Light / High ISO

The basic ISO sensitivity range is from ISO 100 to 25,600. That can also be extended down to ISO 50 and up to ISO 102,400. Those are the kinds of numbers that you get on top-end DSLRs.

In practice, I found the images up through at least ISO 25,600 to be extraordinarily good. Even at ISO 3200 there’s really no noticeable noise to speak of. If you really push things up to the upper limit, there’s certainly noise and the color and tone fidelity drops off quite a lot, but if it’s the difference between getting a shot or not, even the images at 102,400 are very serviceable.

Overall, there’s good reason that Sony is top of the heap at the moment when it comes to sensors, and this camera makes excellent use of that expertise.

Macro

The lens has a macro switch on the front of the lens. The minimum focus with the macro setting is 7.9 inches (20 cm).

The aperture ring is an old-style mechanical aperture ring. In front of that is the macro switch. And on the very front is the manual focus ring.

I’m of two minds about the way the macro is switched on and off with this. On the one hand, having it on the lens is easy to see if you’re looking down at the camera. There’s also an indicator on the LCD screen when it’s on. On the other hand, I found that it was two easy to accidentally move it, especially with the aperture dial being not far away on the lens. And if you have the macro enabled and try to take a regular-distance photo you’ll end up with a very blurry image. Overall, it’s easy enough to get used to after some use, but even after shooting with it for a while I still sometimes go to take a shot only to see a blurry image in the Live View.

Video

This camera is very much geared to still photos, but it does have video capabilities. The highest-resolution video setting is 1080p60.

In general, the video capabilities are pretty rudimentary. It certainly doesn’t rival something like the Panasonic Lumix GH4 in terms of video. But in a nice touch, you can also choose to record both a high-quality XAVC-format video at the same time as an MP4. The latter is far more convenience if you want to share the video quickly without running it through video editing software.

Raves and Quibbles

Raves:

  • The image quality is excellent. It has a top-notch full-frame sensor, and that’s put to good use.
  • Excellent lens. Sharp, fast, and top-shelf optics.
  • The autofocus works unusually well, even in the face recognition and tracking modes.
  • Small and portable.

Quibbles:

As impressive as it is, there are some things that could be improved. Here are some of the ones I ran into.

  • It’s slow to turn on. That’s not ideal for fleeting moment shots of the kind that street photographers specialize in.
  • The maximum shutter speed if 1/4000 sec. In bright daylight conditions, that’s not fast enough for the f/2 large aperture. There’s no built-in ND setting, as some newer cameras have, to overcome this.
  • The back screen is too soft and scratches far too easily. I’d highly recommend both a screen protector and a good camera case.
  • The screen refresh is frustratingly slow.
  • The battery doesn’t last long. Precisely how long, of course, depends on the shooting settings you’re using, but it feels like it needs a bigger battery. I’d definitely recommend picking up a spare.
  • When you plug the camera in to charge via the micro USB cable, there’s no light on the camera to indicate it’s actually charging. To see that it is, you have to power on the camera and check that the small AC icon is showing up to the battery indicator on the LCD screen. It would be nice to have small LED charging indicator light on the camera itself (there is one on the dedicated battery charger).

Miscellaneous Notes

Lightroom

If you’re processing the camera’s RAW images in Lightroom, you might want to change the profile setting under Camera Calibration. Lightroom defaults to the Adobe Standard profile, but that doesn’t work especially well with the Sony’s RAW files. The colors are a bit washed out and the tones cool. The Camera Standard profile is a much better starting point and will more closely match the look you get on the camera’s own screen.

Manual

You can find a digital version of the Sony RX1R II instruction manual here [PDF].

Model Number

You’ll see this camera referred to with a couple of different model numbers, even by Sony themselves. Sometimes it’s the Sony RX1R II; other times, including in the EXIF data, it’s the Sony DSC-RX1RM2. You’ll also sometimes see it referred to as the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX1R II. They all refer to the same camera. On the camera itself, it has RX1R without the “II.”

SteadyShot

Sony has various types of its SteadyShot in-camera image stabilization in its range of cameras, including optical stabilization and digital stabilization. The SteadyShot type on this camera is digital stabilization and applies only to shooting videos/movies.

Wrap Up

There’s no question this camera produces the best quality images of any pocket-sized camera I’ve used. In fact, it’s better than many larger cameras. With a few qualifications, the handling and performance is also excellent.

But is a small camera with a fixed lens and no zoom worth nearly $4000? For many users, probably not. After all, for that money you can get something like a Nikon D810 paired with one or more excellent lenses, or even a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. But those are indisputably bigger, heavier, and more cumbersome. The Sony RX1R II, on the other hand, fits in a pocket or a handbag, making it highly portable as well as discreet.

Clearly, there are photographers who aren’t going to be put off by the price tag, and while I wouldn’t expect the RX1R II to be flying off the shelves by the crate-load, I would expect that any of its new owners are going to really enjoy shooting with it. If you can get past the price, the Sony RX1R II is a gem of a camera.

Available At

It’s available at B&H Photo.

View Comments

  • Hi there.
    Any of the owners of rx1rii confirm if there is any sort of optical stabilization? Does the lens have a stabilizer in it or no?

    Appreciate it!

  • Meh. Maybe a contender if you are a rich guy looking for hi-tech toys or a pro landscape photographer chasing absolute image quality in a small package.

    But the Fuji X100V is currently about $1300, also has a 35/2 lens, and has better video capabilities. it's 26mp but TBH 42mp is way more than you need for travel photos in most situations. Having to stop down the sensor to conserve memory card space defeats the purpose of 42mp in the first place.

    Also you can get an A7RII for $1000-$1300 these days and just stick a 35mm on there and voila! You could pair that with a Voigtlander 35/1.4 and still save more than $2000. Sure, it would be manual focus, but you would also have the capability to pop on another lens without much size/weight penalty.

    I'm glad Sony is still making these but this is the definition of niche product. For the price, they should have had better video and also a touchscreen and built-in ND filter.

  • I've owned my RX1Rii for over 3 years now, and is still working flawlessly, I carry 4 spare batteries (and 1 in camera), and I find it to be a great all-rounder. What's great about it, for me, is that it got me out of a rut: I had lost my creativity, and enthusiasm with my DSLR gear, was getting bored carrying it everywhere and the weight, and due to work, was getting less and less time to shoot. I opted for a radical shift, especially as I knew - on average - I typically shot more photos around 28-45mm in focal length: I decided to sell all my DSLR gear and challenge myself to try fixed lens photography exclusively. I checked out the Leica Q, and the RX1RII. I didn't like the size of the Q, and I was not impressed with the high ISO performance or the dynamic range. The RX1RII beat the Q hands down. My D800 used a Sony Exmor sensor, and the RX1RII had a newer generation back illuminated sensor, promising better low noise performance and marginally higher pixels. The specs seemed great, and what sold me most were the Sonnar 2.0 lens, the pop up EVF, and the accessibility to all the major controls on the body, as well as some interesting innovations like the variable low pass filter. Also handy were some of the accessories on offer: like the infra red remote control for long exposure shooting. Another thing I appreciated over time is how stealthy it is: you can shoot without attracting dirty looks, or people challenging you, because people are far less intimidated and probably has a far more "novice" appearance than a big DSLR set up. This widened my shooting choices and increased my confidence, especially in street situations. But, the imaging performance is what blows me away the most: easily outperforming my old D800, incredible dynamic range, and even at high ISOs you get pleasing film like noise, like high speed 3200 film, for instance. I have used it for street, candids, travel, landscape, architecture, and much more besides. Just a great, great machine, and I applaud Sony for inventing it. In this sector with so few choices at full frame and offering this level of convenience, versatility, combined with truly professional quality results, and that beautiful 35mm lens (a real optical masterpiece in my opinion), in many ways, the RX1RII is unbeatable, and, a true joy to use. I actually find photography far more fun and pleasurable with my RX1RII

  • I use my RX1 and RX1R II for many years professionally alongside my Nikon D800e and Z 7 and let me tell you - they are rugged. I also feared the lack of weathersealing but I had them everywhere, winter, water, beach and hot kitchens - they still work flawlessly.

    Because of its very compact size its also my travel camera. The only real competitor is the Q2. But its way bigger and heavier and it has a 28mm lens. If you don‘t mind both it might be the better choice.

    One more thing in regards to RXs and Qs: the rendering from both lenses is spectacular and very unique. Not everyone will notice the beautiful transition to out of focus areas or the beautiful bokeh, but it certainly will stick to some.

  • It's also not water/weather proofed. This is the single greatest reason Im looking at the other option for a fixed lens travel and backpacking camera. In addition, while 35mm is great in general (and probably why that focal range was selected), I much prefer the slightly wider 28mm size...and hopefully a stop wider too. The Leica Q2 is going to be hard to resist for me until and unless the RX1R v3 comes out. I do like the significantly smaller form factor of these Sonys, and lighter weight...

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